This week’s Watchmen has the chef’s-kiss title “A God Walks Into Abar.” But it could also very easily be called “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Doctor Manhattan But Experience Time in Too Mortal a Fashion to Know How to Ask.”
Or, alteratively: “Blue’s Clues.”
The big blue guy formerly known as Jon Osterman, as we were repeatedly reminded in this week’s Watchmen, experiences time differently than the rest of us: Instead of moments unspooling in linear fashion, he encounters each minute of his life simultaneously. It’s a heady concept, and the mindbender of an episode chauffeurs us through the loops and whorls of Manhattan’s existence with a steady hand. It’s all framed by his relationship with Angela, which began in a Vietnam watering hole and (seemingly?) ends in the front yard of their Tulsa home.
What’s more, we get the answers to several questions — including one set up in the series’ premiere. And I hope you didn’t turn off the episode until the credits were fully done…
Read on for the highlights of the hour.
BIG BLUE’S MEET CUTE | Though the episode leaps all around time-wise, for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to do my best to consolidate things. Cool? On VVN Night in Saigon, an adult Angela drinks alone at a bar. A tall, bald, blue man wearing a suit — whose face we never see — picks up a discarded Doctor Manhattan mask and puts it on, then enters the establishment and brings her a beer. The entire time they’re there, he’s gunning for her to have dinner with him the next night. She tells him he’s crazy, but when he knows that she’s commemorating the anniversary of her parents’ death, it piques her interest enough to allow him to sit and chat a while.
She wonders how he knows that traumatic detail about her life, and he says she’s going to tell him in 20 minutes. By now, he’s introduced himself as Doctor Manhattan, and she really doesn’t believe him. After all, hans’t Big Blue been up on Mars for the past 20 years? He says the Mars version of him is a recording, and he’s actually been living on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. If you want to put a fine point on it, he’s living there right now. And he’s also in the bar with her right now. And so on and so forth. “The way I experience time is unique,” he explains.
As Manhattan narrates, we watch him create life on Europa from the microbes up. He makes a man and a woman, then accelerates their growth until they are adults. He transports a manor house from England there for them to live in; it’s a special place from his childhood, he says. The man and the woman, as you might’ve guessed by now, are the ones whom we’ve seen as clones in Veidt’s storyline, and the manor house is the house where Veidt now resides. They were created in the image of a British couple that were kind to Jon when he and his Jewish father fled Nazi Germany.
Doctor Manhattan eventually takes off his mask, but Angela still thinks he’s just some crazy guy painted blue to commemorate the superhero god’s role in ending the Vietnam War. Plus, she adds, she hates Doctor Manhattan: At Nixon’s behest, he laid waste to Vietnam, which curbed the conflict but created such hatred in the country that the puppeteer who helped kill her parents would do anything to get back at America. Manhattan quietly says that he helped the United States government because he was trying to be what people wanted him to be, but he now regrets it. And why did he leave the paradise he created on Europa? she wonders. Because he’s in love with her, he answers.
As the conversation goes on, Manhattan tells her that they’re going to have a 10-year love that will end in tragedy. And six months into the relationship, they’re going to have a fight where she tells him to leave. At one point, she challenges him to prove he’s a god by creating life right there at the table. He makes an egg appear in his palm. She’s unimpressed.
Eventually, she gets up to leave and questions why she’d ever get into a relationship with him when it’s guaranteed to end sadly. “Don’t all of them?” he asks. She considers that a moment, then agrees to have dinner with him the next evening.
ENTER CAL | Two weeks later, Angela is much more invested in the relationship. But there remains the problem of his otherworldly appearance. So they pick out a recently deceased corpse with no next of kin — Cal Jelani, we hardly knew ye — and Manhattan assumes his appearance (and later, his Social Security Number, etc.).
Six months later, as Manhattan said would happen, they’re making love when she asks him where he is. He replies that he’s in the bar with her when they first met. They fight about how they’re not going to fight. And when it hits a little too close to home for Angela, she unleashes on him. “If you know everything that’s gonna happen, what is there to be afraid of?” she demands. And then, as we knew would happen, she asks him to go. A bright blue flash later, he’s gone.
We see him walking, naked and barefoot, into Veidt’s Antarctic retreat, Karnak. “It’s nice to see you again, Jon,” Adrian says, prompting Manhattan to wonder how his old frenemy knew it was him, given that he still looks like Cal. “Bcause only Doctor Manhattan would have the balls to show up here wearing nothing but his birthday suit,” Veidt says blithely.
It’s been 24 years since the last time they saw each other, which was the night that Veidt unleashed the giant squid on New York City. Veidt knew Manhattan was on Europa (“a little elephant told me”), and guesses that he’s on Earth now because of a woman. Eventually, Manhattan admits that he wants to be mortal so that he can fully be with Angela. Funny enough, Veidt’s got some software for that!
Veidt posits that they could put something in Jon’s prefrontal cortex that would short-circuit his memories. “Without the awareness of your abilities, you wouldn’t know to use them — except perhaps as a reflex in life-threatening situations,” he muses. (The down side: Manhattan also would have no idea who he really was.) The device was part of Veidt’s plan to destroy Big Blue back in the day, but he now hands it over as an easy solution… in exchange for the answer to a question: Will Veidt live to see the utopia he so desperately wanted to create? “Yes, but not here,” Manhattan says, explaining that he created a heaven on Europa but had to leave because his creatures’ undying devotion to him wasn’t satisfying. “Sounds like paradise,” Veidt says (which, ha!), saying he wants to go. “Godspeed,” Manhattan says, and it’s done.
THE DOCTOR IS BACK IN | Manhattan shows Angela the hardware Veidt gave him, and the plan is in motion. “Perhaps you could tell me I was in some kind of accident,” he suggests. She says they should move to Tulsa and start over, and he agrees. She wavers a moment, wondering if he’ll still be him after she places the thing in his head. “My memories might be lost, Angela, but you won’t be losing me,” he promises. Then they exchange I love yous, and she presses the metal ring into his forhead.
What seems like a moment later is actually 10 years later, and she’s taking it out in the kitchen, like we saw in the previous episode. Manhattan comes to and still looks like Cal, though he’s glowing and levitating for a moment there, and he’s really disoriented. Angela quickly tries to bring him up to speed: The 7th Kavalry are coming for them, much like they did on the White Night. She mentions the Kavalry member who had her at gunpoint in the kitchen and was going to kill her “but you zapped him away” — which solves THAT mystery from the premiere. (Remember how Veidt said his powers might manifest in life-or-death situations?)
A confused Manhattan takes a walk on the pool — like, on its surface, Jesus-style — which freaks out the kids who are watching from an upstairs window. He waves his hand, and they disappear, which infuriates Angela. He tells her they’re safe with their grandfather at the theater in Tulsa, and he’s walking on water because it’s important “for later” for her to see him do so. Because who doesn’t love additional puzzles when your life is at stake and your husband is an unmoored god?
Manhattan tells Angela that just before she put the device in his head, he went to New York to meet Will. Knowing the old man was Hooded Justice, he wanted to form an alliance with him. He informed Will of Angela’s existence; through the magic of his perception of time, Angela asks Present Manhattan to 10 Years Ago Will how he knew Judd Crawford was a member of Cyclops and how he knew he had a Klan robe in his closet.
Thing is: Will didn’t… until Manhattan said something. Angela looks horrified. “Did I START ALL THIS?” she asks. Doctor Manhattan offers up the maxim about the chicken or the egg (not helpful!) then goes inside to make waffles (delicious, but also not helpful!).
THE DOCTOR IS OUT? | She tries to get him to understand that there are men coming to kill them, which is when he — in a very relaxed manner — informs her that the Kavalry are already set up outside. Oh, and they’re going to forcefully transport him via a tachyonic cannon, and he’ll die, so there’s nothing they can do to stop it. “There’s something I can do,” she replies, arming herself. Manhattan comes as close to sappy as he can when he reminds her that, during that first night at the bar, she asked him when he fell in love with her. “This is the moment,” he says, but she’s not moved in the slightest. “You stay here while I save your life,” she demands, heading out into the yard.
Angela gets into a gunfight with SO MANY Kavalry members, and it’s not looking good for her at one point. But then Manhattan walks out and starts vanquishing bad guys with a wave of one hand and stopping bullets in their paths with the other. When the danger has passed, Angela is happy: They won, and he was wrong about the cannon and such. But Manhattan looks at her sadly and says no, he was right. That’s when one surviving Kavarly member fires up the cannon, aims it at the good doctor, and sucks him into oblivion while Angela screams in horror.
BUT VEIDT, THERE’S MORE | On Europa, Veidt is shirtless and tied to a tree as the Game Warden looks on. One by one, the clones ask him, “Will you stay, Master?” His answer is always no, and it always earns him a tomato forcefully smushed into his face.
He’s living in a cell at the manor home, and when we see him there later, the Warden brings him that yellow and purple cake with several candles on top. We learn that the Warden was the very first man to emerge from the water, and he watched Manhattan create their surroundings. “He made Heaven before my very eyes. Why is Heaven not enough?” he angrily asks. “Because it is not my home,” Veidt replies. He rants about how all 8 million of his “children” are “standing in their crypts… crying out in desperation for me to return.” The Warden doesn’t care. “Enjoy your f–king cake,” he snarls, leaving Veidt alone.
But as Veidt blows out the candles, he notices a bit of metal on the side of the pastry: Someone has baked a horseshoe into the cake! He starts laughing like a mad man and — I think? — sharpening one edge of the shoe on the stone floor.
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